By Alison Gala, Focus: HOPE Communications Volunteer
“There is a need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said during his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in 1964. “Man must evolve for all human conflict, a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”
This mission is one we hold close. The 1967 Detroit Race Riot was one of the most violent urban revolts of the 20th century. Rioters smashed windows and looted stores. Fires spread rapidly and raged out of control, covering 12 square miles. Gunshots echoed through the streets. The violence lasted an estimated five days and nights. Forty-three people were killed. Over 1,000 people were injured and over 7,000 were arrested. The overall property damage totaled about $32 million.
Several important political, economic and social factors triggered the unrest. Key factors included police brutality, lack of affordable housing, segregated schools, wealth disparity and demographic changes. The outlook was bleak.
“Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate,” MLK wrote in his book in 1968. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
Father William Cunningham founded Focus: HOPE in 1968 in response to the Detroit Race Riot the year before. Cunningham was a visionary leader and civil rights activist who marched alongside MLK in Selma, Alabama after “Bloody Sunday”. In the beginning, we were a series of volunteer projects aimed at restoring the Detroit community. Eventually, with assistance from Eleanor Josaitis, Cunningham’s project turned into the multi-million dollar nonprofit that we are today.
Our logic was simple: to minimize violence, increase opportunities. Since then, we have worked to provide career training, education, advocacy and support to empower individuals to overcome racism, poverty and injustice in a meaningful way.
On MLK Day, 220 of our employees celebrated the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by volunteering at organizations like the Capuchin Soup Kitchen, Bottomless Toy Chest, Boys & Girls Club, Forgotten Harvest, Cass Community Social Services, Humble Design, Mariners Inn, St. Vincent DePaul, Detroit Rescue Mission and Arts & Scraps. Together, we provided more than 560 hours of service to the metro Detroit community.
“It was really special to see all of Focus: HOPE donate their MLK Day to serve others in our community,” said Jennifer Presley, Event & Cause Marketing Manager, Focus: HOPE. “It was an amazing MLK Day and was a reminder as to what MLK Day should really be all about.”
As an organization, we have laid a foundation for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. We have given people the tools they need to rise, and have provided what was so desperately needed all along: hope.